So there’s a cyclone headed towards my state, Queensland, here in Australia! It’s a pretty big state (two and a half times the size of Texas) and we’re very close to the Tropics, so cyclones often head this way and miss the city that I live in completely.
But this one’s headed for us, so that means A LOT of rain over the next few days. And when it’s rainy, and you’re stuck indoors, well that’s just the perfect time for a kitchen project! Let’s make…Spaghetti and Meatballs.
Aside from being totally delicious, and lot’s of fun to make, spaghetti and meatballs is right up the top of my list of homey, comforting meals.
I don’t know whether it’s the old-school Italian family vibe, the slow simmering, or the mindless, repetitive act of bringing this meal together, but to me Spaghetti and Meatballs is comfort-food central. And yes, I am aware that I’ve used fettucine instead of spaghetti, but I don’t care.
There are three elements to a good meatball – the texture, the seasoning and the cook. I like a looser texture on my meatball – there’s nothing worse than a compacted, tough mouthful. So I use the old Italian trick of bread soaked in milk. Not only does this add tenderness, but also a little fat, and it compensates for the potentially toughening egg.
To season, I use a generous amount of cracked pepper, a little dijon mustard, freshly grated parmesan (though I feel I should be calling it parmigiano), and some finely chopped parsley.
I mix all of that pretty vigorously together, and then throw the mix into the fridge to firm up a little. Then I roll the mix into 2 tsp sized meatballs, and fry them in a hot pan with a little olive oil. Some people prefer to throw the meatballs straight into the sauce and poach them – but I love that steak-y richness that frying gives.
My sauce is the ultimate, simple tomato sauce – no frills necessary here. Just sliced garlic, some finely chopped basil stalks, olive oil, and 2 cans of chopped Italian tomatoes. Season with salt, add a half a can of water, and then drop in your meatballs and cook, lid off, until the sauce is thick and the meatballs are cooked through.
At the end, I throw over a carpet of fresh basil leaves, and then serve these puppies with the long-pasta of your choice, and plenty of freshly grated parmesan. If you’re anything like me, you’ll nurse a plate of this pasta on your lap, wrap yourself in a blanket and watch the rain fall outside, while feeling totally safe and secure inside your homey home.
And the next day, smash whatever pasta and sauce and meatballs are left into a jaffle, with a blanket of cheddar cheese, and toast that sucker. As with so many labour-intensive foods, the leftovers are half the point!
- 2 slices white bread, crusts removed
- ⅓ cup milk
- 1 pound (500g) minced beef (or any combination of beef, veal and pork)
- 1 egg
- ½ cup finely grated parmesan (loosely packed), plus extra, to serve
- ¼ cup finely chopped parsley
- 1 heaped teaspoon dijon mustard
- salt and pepper
- Olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2-4 sprigs of basil (about ½ cup basil leaves, loosely packed, stalks reserved)
- 2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes (Italian brands are often better)
- Your favourite pasta, to serve
- Place the bread into a large mixing bowl and pour over the milk. Leave to soak for 5 minutes, while you gather the rest of the ingredients.
- Add the meat, egg, parmesan, parsley, mustard, plenty of cracked pepper and a pinch of salt to the bowl with the bread, and use your hands to mix everything very thoroughly together. Aim to break the bread up and distribute it through the mix.
- Cover the bowl with plastic, and place in the fridge to firm up, for at least 30 minutes.
- Taking about 2 heaped teaspoons of the mixture at a time, roll the meatballs and place them on a lined tray (or you can roll them and place them straight into the hot pan, if you're quick).
- Heat a large frying pan over a medium-high heat, with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Add a layer of meatballs (I do half at a time) being careful not to crowd the pan, and cook them until browned on all sides.
- Remove to a plate, and continue until they're all browned, adding more oil, if required. Don't worry about cooking them through, as they will finish cooking in the sauce.
- When the meatballs are all done, turn off the heat, but don't clean out the pan.
- Peel and finely slice the garlic and finely slice the basil stalks, discarding any that are too woody.
- Place the pan back on a medium heat, and add a little more oil, if required. Add the garlic and basil stalks and cook until the garlic is softened. Add in the tomatoes, and swill a little water in each can, adding that to the pan as well. The sauce should be quite liquid.
- Season the sauce with a pinch of salt, and then add in the browned meatballs. Stir gently, and then turn the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through, and the sauce is thick. Scatter over the basil leaves.
- Serve over your favourite long pasta, with plenty of freshly grated parmesan.